Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 06.djvu/129

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119
General C. M. Wilcox on the Battle of Gettysburg.

four. Had General Lee passed along the lines whilst the enemy's batteries were playing upon us so furiously, he would have found fault with the officer who posted those brigades in such an exposed position, when they could have been protected by withdrawing them to the ravine, a few yards in rear.

The artillery fire having ceased, and Armistead's brigade resumed its position, the order to advance was soon given through staff officers. The advance began by Pickett's three brigades making a wheel to the left of about 45°, perhaps a little more, and then advanced[1] direct to the front. In this wheel to the left, one brigade was thrown to the rear. The centre brigade, Garnett's, stepped over my men, who lay flat on the ground for that purpose, as the move began. The enemy's artillery reopened fire on the advancing line before it had gone one hundred yards. Pickett's division had gone three or four hundred yards, when three staff officers came in quick succession to order me to advance in rear of and beyond Pickett's right. Three officers were sent to insure the orders reaching me, the artillery fire being so very heavy it was thought best to send three, one at a time—so one of General Pickett's staff officers informed me some years after the war; and further, the orders for me to advance came from General Longstreet.[2] Neither my division nor corps commanders knew of the order.

General Longstreet was again slow, did not make the attack as soon as was expected, and he opposed it violently—he felt it would result in a useless effusion of blood, he informs us. So deeply was he impressed with the useless sacrifice that he believed was about to be offered, that when the time came, not in his opinion, but in that of Colonel Alexander, for Pickett to advance, and he was asked by him if he should attack, that he bowed his assent, not daring to speak, less his voice should betray his want of confidence. But with this conviction of useless sacrifice of his men, he ordered my brigade, about a thousand or eleven hundred men, to advance. Such a reinforcement to Pickett could have availed nothing, could only be sacrificed; and yet it was by his order that it advanced, and it is now sought to make it appear that it formed a part of the attacking column, as had been previously ordered. General Longstreet gives a highly colored and graphic description of Pickett's charge,


  1. The map of the battle field shows that if they continued to advance direct to the front after the wheel to the left, their right flank must have been exposed to the enemy, and such it Is believed was the case.
  2. General Pickett informed me in the summer of 1873 that the order for me to advance was given by General Longstreet.